Ethics – Karma – Self Reinforcement

Friday, May 15th, 2009 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Last week we talked about the circumstances in which cooperation can be the best route for all parties, even in deeply competitive situations like evolution by natural selection. That in these circumstances the forces of natural selection favour the evolution of social emotions, methods which change the behaviour of organisms, and thus the very environment in which creatures live. By punishing defection and rewarding cooperation these social emotions increase the karma of the whole group by ensuring that the individual karma of each of it’s members is tracked, and that each of those members rewarded for adding to the karma of the group.

All the members of a community, then, have an incentive to enforce justice. An incentive to punish mis-deeds, to befriend only the most friendly. Genes, emotions, memes and social conventions evolve to build an environment in which individuals can take advantage of the rising tide of good karma which lifts all boats.

Note however that these social emotions aren’t just about others. An individual in this society is better off, personally actually better off, if he cooperates more. He’s better off because, in the special circumstances we mentioned earlier, the other individuals in his group make it so. They enforce the rules.

Thus each individual evolves conscience. If those who fail to cooperate are out-competed by those who do, if there exists a selective pressure to encourage cooperation, then those who feel genuine guilt, those who feel remorse, who make amends and resolve never to again do the thing which caused these feelings will prosper over the guiltless and the selfish.

Self Reinforcement

All of which means that not only have you evolved in an environment of family and friends which carefully watch and judge your ethical actions, your contribution to the group’s karma, but also that you have also evolved to judge yourself on those same scores, those same criteria.

Whether you want it or not, your are always being judged, not just by the wider community (for they are not always present) but by yourself. Every time you find yourself wanting, every time you wrong someone or something, every time you reduce the amount of karma in your society, you will damage your own opinion of yourself.

This self image will be in your mind all the time. If you know you’re not a great person, you won’t expect great friends. If you know you’re a thief, you’ll act like a thief. You’ll condemn yourself.

When you finally are in the company of others again, this self judgement will filter on to them through your non-verbal subliminal body language and behaviour.

Your expectations will change. If you know you’re great, you’ll expect great things. If you know you’re a bastard, you’ll accept being treated like one.

Changing Yourself

At the Transcendence Institute, we believe that these things are fundamentally changeable. It would seem that if you so desired you could erase these effects, judge yourself in a deliberately inaccurate way. Consider yourself better than you are, more kind and friendly than you are. Cynically wear one mask when others are around and another when alone.

However, this would be a mistake.

As we have explained, in a social society the benefits to you, personally from making properly ethical decisions far outweigh any short-term temporary gain you may be able to glean from the dishonest, unfriendly or unethical choice. It’s a good thing to have these social emotions, not only for society at large but (because of the way you’ll interact with that society in future) for you personally too!

In fact then, we should encourage these social emotions. The pleasure of helping someone, the joy of adding karma to your society, the guilt and unhappiness of wronging someone.

The last meditation in this lap around the spiral, presented next week, will help you to build those emotions, to take more pleasure from doing the right thing.